Hinchcliffe continues to be inspired by Wickens’ recovery

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TORONTO – James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens have been friends for years, dating back to their boyhood days when they were both competed in Karting in the Greater Toronto area.

Hinchcliffe is from the Toronto suburb of Oakville and Wickens grew up down Lake Ontario in Guelph.

When they weren’t racing, one of the highlights of the summer was the Honda Indy Toronto. It’s an event Hinchcliffe attended for the first time since he was 18months old in 1988 and has been at the race every year it has been contested (there was no race at Toronto in 2008).

Wickens raced at Toronto last year as an NTT IndyCar Series rookie. He is currently recovering from a spinal injury sustained in a wicked crash at Pocono Raceway on August 19, 2018.

Wickens has made significant progress in his recovery with hopes of one day returning to racing. Meantime, he remains a key member of “Team Canada.”

Wickens will return to the streets of Toronto this weekend as he drives a specially modified Acura NSX passenger car by Arrow so that the man who remains without full use of his legs can drive the car. Wickens will drive the car during the parade lap of the Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Watch the Honda Indy Toronto on NBCSN Sunday, July 14 at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

By watching Wickens make tremendous improvement in his recovery, Hinchcliffe admits it helps him keep his life in perspective.

Hinchcliffe, himself, has gone through some serious times of adversity, including a near-fatal crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during practice for the Indianapolis 500 on May 18, 2015.

“It’s funny, people used to say that about me, I say that about him, and he says that about people he sees at rehab,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s all relative. For me, Robby’s attitude towards this whole thing has been such a huge part of his rehabilitation, but also the people close to him coping with it.

“I don’t see it any more.

“There was a picture of him from the Indy 500 Banquet, Him and Karli standing on the Red Carpet. It took me a second to see him as standing. I don’t see him as sitting or standing, I see him as Robby. I’m happy we are at that point and I think he is comfortable at that point.

“He is going to keep pushing. He is going to walk one day and I’m almost not going to be that surprised. I’ll be happy; but that not surprised.”

Wickens has attended several NTT IndyCar Series races this season, including the season-opener at St. Petersburg, Florida and the entire “Month of May” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Wickens will be at Toronto to help support the efforts of “Team Canada” in this big event for Canada’s largest city.

“Team Canada” is the nickname for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports because Hinchcliffe and Wickens are from the Toronto area and team co-owner Ric Peterson is from Calgary, Alberta.

“On track, if not off track, Robby is still a huge part of this team,” Hinchcliffe explained. “To have two Canadian drivers and a Canadian team owner, it’s pretty special. It’s a one in a million odds thing that we would both end up in the same organization. For us, there is an added passion to racing there, in our backyard, for Robby and myself and being in Canada for Ric Peterson.

“It’s important for all of us as the unofficial Team Canada to give the Canadians a good result to cheer for.”

Peterson and team co-owner Sam Schmidt have been extremely supportive of Wickens during his time of recovering.

“We can’t say enough about how important Robert Wickens is to our team, even though he is not driving this season,” Peterson said. “I don’t think people know how much we really do miss Robert. He was very, very important to this team and he still is when he comes back. It’s very important because Robert is an inspiration to the whole team, but also a big help to Marcus and his first year in IndyCar. Robert has been a big help to him. We really like having him around.”

New to the team is former Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson of Sweden. He made 97 F1 starts before joining Arrow Schmidt Peterson for the 2019 season. A quick learner, Ericsson finished second to race winner Scott Dixon in the second race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on June 2.

The 28-year-old Ericsson has earned “honorary status” as a member of “Team Canada” by the leader of the team, Hinchcliffe.

“Sweden is like the Canada of Europe – super nice people, they are OK with Winter, they like hockey, they use Snowshoes and they are good at recycling,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s been great to have him on the team.”

Ericsson has fit in perfectly with the team. He is a former F1 driver who is willing to learn the much different form of racing in IndyCar. And, he is also learning the unique culture of Canada.

“We both love hockey, both countries do,” Ericsson said. “Fortunately for me we usually beat the Canadians.”

Hinchcliffe jumped in and said, “Blatantly not true. Anybody with a Google can tell you that’s a complete lie.

“He’s an honorary Canadian now, except when it comes to hockey,” Hinchcliffe said. “He’s not good enough for that.”

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

NBCSN

“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).